[Music/Metal] 2018 as seen by my album picks

2018 was, in retrospective, a year in which quality trumped over quantity. Not many albums (and EPs) got picked this year, but a good lot of digging of new horizons, some surprises, some disappointments and some “fairly good” stuff.  I hate trying to set my Top 10 of the year, for many reasons. But here are my album picks for this year, ranked alphabetically.

 

Clouds – Dor

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I love listening to doom metal, because it is a genre that allows me to undergo an introspective meditation, allow some of my melancholy to resurface and think about those that I loved and are no more existent. This album spoke straight into my limbic system and heavily touch my feelings. It is something that rarely musical pieces are capable to achieve. Dor is an honest work from the author that is intimate and sincere.

Ex-Libris – Ann (Chapter 1 EP)

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Dianne strikes back with her prog metal band Ex-Libris and damn it is just pure bliss to listen to her in something more cocky, more proggy, more versatile, in other words more “Ex-Libris”. Sure the EP is only three songs and kind of let you thirsty for more but surely looking forward to listen to the rest. If you like Dianne’s voice and ready to embrace some nicely crafted prog metal, you should grab this EP.

FT-17  – Verdun!

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FT-17 brought in his second album, right on the mark of the 100th anniversary of the final offense of Verdun, as the tide turned on “La Der des Ders”, thanks to the involvement of the American troops on the front, bringing new troops and new warfare. The album continues where we left our private Marcellin Trouve, now fully inside the hellfire of Verdun. The band nicely translated the fury and violence of the trench wars in their second album, that not only will satisfy black/death metal enthusiasts, not without getting a lesson on World War 1, and the atrocity (if not the plain futility) of this war that decimated a whole generation and set the world on fire for the next 100 year.

Ghost – Prequelle

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Ghost. Rarely a band has been so divisive and such a zebra for metalheads. Also, the media firestorm that engulfed Ghost by revealing the identity of Papa Emeritus (identified as Tobais Forge), the fratricide conflict that has hit the band. “Prequelle” was a good album, but honestly I was not as much blow away as I was from their first two albums. There are some good tunes such as “Rats” , “Faith”. Some very interesting and engaging experiments such as “Miasma” bringing 80s synths and jazzy saxophone into the mix. But also a good half of the album I could just toss because “meh”. Is the album good? Yes it is good. Does it deserve being #1 of metal of the 2018 Top 10? I think there are contenders for that position.

Hellight – As We Slowly Fade 

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This was a late-one coming to my ear. Coming from Brazil, an impressive doom metal album. When you think about Brazil, you think about colored beaches, carnaval, sunshine, futbol and samba. Well, you also have a lightbulb turning on with metal bands such as “Sepultura” and “Nervosa Thrash”. But getting into an album that bring the darkest tones of doom from Brazil is almost mission impossible. Yet, Hellight shows us that Brazil can impress us and produce some gems. If you are looking for some doom coming outside the realms of Asgard, you will have a secured pick.

Kalidia – The Frozen Throne

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Kalidia brought us their second album this Fall, showing us that slowly but surely the Italian power metal scene is getting hands on with promising rising star. It is a very nice follow-up of their first album, more focused, harder, louder, faster and full of vigor like a young wolf. You can find a more detailed review in my previous posts.

 

Lux in Tenebris – To A New Eternity

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Marion-Lamita is back, after going through tumultuous and rocky years, into the scene by experimenting new avenues. One of theme is “Lux In Tenebris”, an EP that is pretty good considered the limited access she had. There is some potential to grow here, most of the EP is pleasing to the ears and hopefully can set a ramp to something promising. I wish good luck to her and Thierry for having a transforming and prolific 2019.
https://youtu.be/ODGes7gG5VM

 

Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart

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Oceans of Slumber was another surprise, especially coming from Houston. What I can tell more about? Well nothing much, except to read the review I published on earlier this year. One of my favorite album I have for this year!. A must-listen album!

Ophidian Spell – Nux/Hemera

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This was really a random pick as my SO went visiting my family back home. I asked her to pick me some albums from local bands in my favorite record store in my hometown and this was one of the album pick really just by randomness (my wife hates metal, so it was really random and just guided by genres given). Result? A very interesting prog/technical death album that is a delight to hear. It is fast, it is furious, but it is also nicely set with “dentelles” around, giving a kind of the best of both worlds for me. Give a try to their tunes, this one from their track “Mental Universe”. https://youtu.be/jIr9pWVToOQ

Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold

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2018 was the year I kind of embraced Finnish melodic death. First it was Insomnium with their last album “Winter’s Gate” (in complete opposition to critics, I really really loved that one), then my second pick this year was Omnium Gatherum. A very good album overall nicely blending the brutality of death with a good ounce of melodics giving this escapism to Finland forest. You can find my full review on that one too in my previous posts.
https://youtu.be/cydhfda6rXI

Ragana – Let Our Names Be Forgotten (EP)
Another discovery this year. Ragana, coming from Oakland, CA. An interesting pick for sludge metal this year. Rough, dark and primal. I liked it.
https://youtu.be/wCI1Xxus3HI

Sytigian Crown – Through Divine Rite (EP)
Another EP discovered while wandering on Bandcamp. It has this Black Sabbath-esque kind of vibes, coming from the LA scene that I found very pleasant.

Swallow the Sun – Lumina Aurea (EP)
Swallow the Sun simply outdid themselves by releasing an audiovisual wondering experience with Lumina Aurea. Get your best AV equipment and watch this!

Therion – Beloved Antechrist

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Therion. A band that keeps breaking the norms, that keeps experimenting and setting milestones in the metal scene, that their fan like it and not. They know how to do impressive stuff and “Beloved Antechrist” was would an opera metal would sounds like if it was a real theatrical performance. A 3 hour album. What? You did not get it? You have been missing something big. Again, I will refer back to my previous blog post.

Whyzdom – As Time Turns To Dust
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Whyzdom, my go-to French symphonic metal band that is playing now at the same field than juggernauts such as Epica and Nightwish, while having their own “French touch”. It is baroque, well-orchestrated and very pleasant to the ears. Again, you can find my review on this one as well. What? You never heard about Whyzdom? Listen to them and get a catch-up course ASAP.

Wolfheart – Constellation of the Black Light

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My second Finnish melodic death album of the year. A damn good album overall to listen. It is loud, fast, brutal yet again a road to escapism from Finland. Did I ever told you how Finland knows how to blacksmith their metal with such elegance? Enough said!

This was about my 2018 year in music, and the least I can say as I become older I become picky on my choices.  Lets see what 2019 will give me.

 

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[Metal/Doom] Swallow The Sun – Lumina Aurea (EP)

Swallow the Sun just released their EP “Lumina Aurea” today, right on the Winter Solstice, the day with the shortest daylight and the longest night. For those who know Swallow the Sun and their epic melancholic doom, we know that this EP would not be a jolly ride. Indeed, with some project like “Hallatar”, they showed us how dark and melancholic they can reach. But this one, oh my, this one is as dark as it can be in a Finnish forrest on a solstice night. It is an outstanding piece of doom to listen, doubled by an excellent photography of Northern Finland/Lapland and production by excellent Italian musicians (Francesco Sosto, Giuseppe Orlando, Gianpaolo Caprino and Frederico Di Pofi) . Never a forrest covered with pure white snow felt so dark and depressing.
It is an outstanding visual and auditory gift given by the band, a 14-minutes introspection to remember about the ones we loved and that are gone. This is the kind of video you want to see in 4K (put your YT setting on the highest quality) with the best audio equipment, to fully appreciate the beauty of melancholy.
Mors Fortior Quam Vita Est, Amor Fortior Quam Mors Est” (Latin translation: “Death is Stronger than Life, Love is Stronger Than Death). My deepest and sincere condolences for the ones we have lost during this year, my compassions and feels for those that have lost their loved ones.

[Metal/Symphonic] Nightwish – Oceanborn (20th Anniversary Release)

This month marks the release of Nightwish second album (and the official first international album) “Ocenaborn”, released on December 7th 1998. This album has a special place in my heart. Paradoxically, I got introduced to Nightwish via “Wish I had an Angel” in 2004 and got their first album as “Oceanborn”. It was a love at first sight, because it was magically blending metal, symphonic elements and a mezzo-soprano voice.
This is for me the quintescential album from Nightwish and felt that any subsequent album never reached the personal satisfaction I have ever with any other Nightwish albums. The album is composed by 11 tracks (if I refer to the 1999 international issue) totalling 49 minutes.
With the exception of “Stargazers”, the first track that is also my least favorite of the album (I usually even skip it in my playlist), the rest of the album is a winning streak of excellent tracks. “Gethsemane”, the second track,  is for me by definition the Nightwish song, with its gothic inspiration and an excellent prestation from Tarja and composition by Tuomas on the keyboard showing to an audience usually averse to keyboards that when they are nicely intergrated, it can create something beautiful to listen. I even have a tear drop each time at the last couple of verses followed by the lambastic melodics from Tuomas. You can listen it here and tell me what you think about:

“Devil and The Deep Dark Ocean” (track 3) is falling into a two part songs that is concluding with “The Paraoh Sails To Orion” (track 9), perfectly giving this bombastic guitars with the keyboard arrangements and Tarja voice. An quasi-orgasm in terms of listening. Follows “Sacrament of Wilderness”, “Passion And The Opera” that do not give us a minute to rest, only to get into “Swanheart” that is the simpliest in terms of musical arrangement but an excellent one in which you can hear Tarja beautiful voice.
“Moondance”, the 8th track album, is purely instrumental and almost like a showcase of Tuomas composition talent giving you this feeling of evasion that we will get much later again in his solo project titled “The Music Inspired by the Life And Times of Scrooge”. This melodical interlude is concluded by “The Riddler” that is good, but slightly lesser good than the rest of the song. Then comes track 9 “The Pharaoh Sails to Orion”. Oh boy, THIS IS THE NIGHTWISH SONG! Something bold and nicely backed by Tarja, with a jaw-dropping ending to it, with Tarja doing us what I refer an epic vocal riff. At that time, I was sold to have FFM bands, and set the bar of expectation very high: you are either mezzo-soprano or you will not make the cut. Tarja set the bar very high and defined the symphonic metal gold-standard in terms of vocals.
The 10th track, “Walking In The Air”, was for me was an unknown but apparently is a cult in Scotland and Finland as it was initially part of the animated film “The Snowman” that is a classic for Christmas in these two countries. I never heard the original and got introduced with Nightwish cover of that song. Oh man, it is truly showing the ability of Tuomas to compose amazing musical arrangement, giving this kind of magic coupled with Tarja vocal performance.
Finally, the last song added to the international release is “Sleeping Sun”. Taken from their original album “Angels Fall First” and slightly re-arranged. Honestly, I prefer this version compared to the original one. Here is one of the official video (original) of the song:

If I ever have to be dropped in a desert island or being confined in a vault shelter when the bombs fell, this is certainly the only Nightwish album I would pickup without an ounce of hesitation.

[Metal/Melodic Power] Kalidia – The Frozen Throne (80%)

Kalidia released their second full-album entitled “The Frozen Throne” on November 23th. I know it has been almost 10 days but I wanted to be sure I gave it enough time to give it a fair review.
How does it compare it “Lies’ Device” (their first album)? How does Nicoletta Rosellini vocals fare? Is Kalidia looking as a solid bet from Transalpine neighbors as an emerging band to watch for? Well I gonna try to answer all these questions. The album is a 11 tracks totaling 47 minutes. Overall, it is a solid album, comforting their first album and slowly but surely making Kalidia a band you should keep an eye on. It is growing slowly but surely, conquering lands and hearts one fiefdom at the time. I would say that maybe the band played it a bit safe and feels like the songs are sounding maybe too homogeneous in my opinion.
The first and second tracks are “Frozen Throne” and “Circe’s Spell”. Not much talking here, as I let the band sell themselves to you with their two official videos:


We start well, with some solid stuff that gives you fairly “la patate” while listening to them. The third track “Black Sails” starts with a “Pirates of the Caribbeans” feels and fairly decent. Good, but when I want some pirate metal, I bet my doubloons and my rum on Alestorm (and their anthem song “Drink!”). You can hear their song here:

The fourth and fifth tracks “Orpheus” and “To The Darkness I Belong”, are in my opinion are decent, but nothing giving me thrills. I don’t want to call them fillers, but feel like the weakest songs of the album. The sixth track “Myth of Masada” help us forget a bit these two songs, and gave us something decent to listen. “Midnight’s Chant” is maybe deviating from their power melodic tones and more luring into some Symphonic avenues. It is an okay song, certainly a good song to use in a radio station (as it is fairly accessible for a large audience). “Go Beyond”, “Amethyst”, “Lotus” are quite good power melodic one to listen to it, giving you some thrills inherent to power metal songs. “Queen of The Forsaken”, the eleventh song, sounds at times like a Nightwish song and nicely conclude the album.
Overall, this is a generally good power melodic album, and a fairly solid second release album from the band. Nicoletta gained comfort in her vocal style (singing in a lower tone than the usual FFM, which is makes it unique), the band gained experience and consistency, both marking an overall good outcomes in terms of the maturation of the band.
Yet, my major complains are that I feel we lost some of the risk-taking approach we had with “Lies Devices”, especially the keyboards seems to have taken the backseat in that album. The second complaint is that after a good start with three songs, we quickly reach a sort of “homogenous” middle that takes about the good second third of the album. It  sounds decent but feels redundant, repetitive, and playing artistically safe. I would personally think this album would have much more impact as an EP, as it feels the second third of the album as a weakness.
The band has generously uploaded three songs of the album on Youtube (see links) and I let you decide. I personally see Kalidia slowly but surely gaining ground in the Power Melodic Metal scene coming from Italy, slowly but surely conquering fiefdoms and hearts over time. Considering the double life of Nicoletta (she got her DVM recently, so congratulations Dr. Rosellini!) and likely the other band members, it is a nice piece of work delivered by a “little league band”. Remember, like any other little bands, they need support from you. You like it? Please consider skipping a McDonalds meal and invest in a melodic power metal band and buy their album.

[Metal/Doom] Clouds – Dor (95%)

The best musical compositions in my opinion are the ones that are capable to transcend the listener, to vehicle the feelings of the artist into the audience. The best musical compositions are the one that will not only stimulate your primary auditive cortex, but also activate secondary cortical areas, in particular your limbic system.
The limbic system, for those not familiar with neurosciences, is a complex and heterogenous brain structure encompassing different brain region that are below the brain cortex (what we refer commonly as “the gray matter”). It is involved in the memorization, but foremost is involved in the emotions: Joy, sadness, anger, calm…….
To me, the best musical compositions are the one that will make you happy, will make you sad, make you ballistic, or simply make you chill out and relax.
Amongst these four, sadness is my precious one. It revives dark periods in my life, periods that brought me emotional pain and somehow get hidden under layers of “everyday life” in priority. This is maybe why I have a natural attraction to doom metal. Doom metal helps unfolding and revealing this melancholy, brings back sad memories and sometimes makes me cry of reviving this sadness. Very few albums and songs reach that level but with the latest release of Clouds album “Dor”, it made me cry for 50 minutes. This is why it took me almost ten days and countless listening to be able to write down my review.
It is a 6 track album spanning over 50 minutes, yet you feel like it is a consistent album that would have been a single track. Clouds marvelously combine a chord piano playing on the bottom range, with ethereal melodic riffs, slow and heavy tempo. When you enter this album via “Forever And A Day”, you enter into a doomy and gloomy introspection into yourself as the melancholy comes in and unfold. Majestic!
The second track, “The Last Day of The Sun”, although still pretty good  feels like in my opinion the weakest one. With the third track, “When I’m Gone”, we have the featuring of Gogo Melone (Aeonian Sorrow, Luna Obscura). It is the first time I hear Gogo and her voice combined to the musical arrangement of Clouds reminded me the best years of Anneke Von Giersbergen and The Gathering. I am surely checking out her latest release with Aeonian Sorrow. Another remarkable track.
“Dor”, the fourth track, is the middle piece of resistance. It is being half-way drawing in the swamp of sadness and we do not feel to escape it. The band gives us an opportunity of an official videoclip, allowing me to share my auditive experience. Warning: get ready for a box of tissue and a bottle of liquor to drown these tears.

The two remaining tracks “The Forever Sleep” (featuring Pim Blankenstein) and “Alone” are in the same range and keep it on an excellent composition.
In the time as we see a glut of bands in some genres in the metal landscape that prime on quantity over quality, doom metal stands still and strong. It maybe not as dynamic as other genres (in which we have hundreds of bands), but each bands labelled as “doom metal” has their own sounds, their own artistic variations that makes them unique. And this is the case of Clouds. With the second album, the band show that simplicity of an acoustic piano is much better than an artistic composition mostly digitally created on a computer. Instruments should convey the feelings, let them be cold or warm. It is very frugal, but a very sincere and emotional listening experience in which we share the pain and the grievance of the artist behind. We relive our own grievance and sadness, as our limbic system opens up to the musical stimuli.
Rarely albums made me cry through the whole length of the album, and that tells me how excellent the composition is. Overall, it is an excellent second album that I strongly warns about the emotional content. You want to keep it for a rainy and cloudy grey skies day, a day you are recluse and looking for an introspection into your saddest and darkest memories. It gave me the chills, it let me wet tissues but it also helped me found some solace by allowing a catharsis of these emotions.

[Metal/Doom] Candlemass – Ancient Dreams (20th anniversary release)

Today is Thanksgiving. In other words, an opportunity to write something on my personal blog. Today is also incidentally the 20th anniversary of the release of Candlemass third album “Ancient Dreams”.
It is fairly impressive to think the band was able to put a three-year streak of releasing an album every year for three consecutive years, and still produce a third album that is pretty decent even after all these years. The album is a nine tracks spanning on 55 minutes. According to the interview present in the 2CD version of the album, the album was done in a certain promiscuity, on the cheap (cheap studio) and in a short timeline.
The album in my opinion is quite good but you can feel it has the lackluster compared to previous albums.
The album starts with “Mirror, Mirror”, one of my favorite tracks of the album. “A Cry From The Crypt” and “Darkness in Paradise” are decent but kind of sound not really like Candlemass, maybe too jolly. “Incantation Of Evil” brings us back to “Epicus Doomicus…”, with occult themes and the guitar shreds makes it my second favorite of the album. “Bearer of Pain” is okay but honestly forgettable, at least compared to “Ancient Dreams”.  “Ancient Dreams” sees the use of a recurrent crescendo-decrescendo both by Messiah in the vocals and the guitar riffs. “The Bells of Archeron” continues on the track of “Ancient Dreams”, with a more dynamic tone and heavily influenced by the heroic-fantasy lore. “Epistle No. 81” is a languorous and slow song, very simple but very intimate, setting some canon in the doom metal. The last one is a cover of several songs from Black Sabbath.
Overall, the album is fine but also feels like a setback from their two previous albums. I can surely speculate that the conception of this album and its unfolding was not done in the best conditions and you can feel it. It is good, but not delivering as much Epicus Doomicus.
There are several versions out and I strongly recommend to put your hand on the 2-CDs version of the album, as the second CD has several “live” songs. It makes me feel I wish I was there to assist Messiah energy on stage as you can hear it in this voice.

[Metal/Opera Metal] Lux in Tenebris – To a New Eternity (EP)

After deciding to put an end on Darkonelly project band few years ago, Marion-Lamita have been working hard behind the scene to produce something different. The announcement back then left me skeptical and somehow disappointed. We can say that  her new project Lux in Tenebris has been producing something interesting. After releasing some solo titles on Youtube (that left me in a limbo, neither being enthusiastic nor being pessimistic about), Lux in Tenebris has released its first EP titled “To A New Eternity” last Friday. Because it is an EP, I don’t give a score but I will anyway give my thoughts on it. The first thing that strikes is the contribution of Liv Kristine (ex-Theatre of Tragedy, ex-Leaves Eyes). Liv has been always been supportive of small bands, in particular during their freshman album. Delain, Hydra…..
This is an EP of 7 titles lasting about 35 minutes with two interludes. We start the EP with  “Divine Mankind” bringing us Marion’s soprano voice, that same haunting voice from Darkonelly. What I like about, in this time in which female-fronted metal symphonic metal is facing a huge glut of bands relying heavily on post-production, is the very particular moderate use of the keyboards. The music in this one is okay, sometimes a bit cheesy. Tony is in the growls on this one, a first time for him. Fairly good for a first-timer. The second one, “Chaos in Beauty” is sounding in my opinion more interesting, sometimes reminding me of Therion. Thats a good track you should listen.
The third track “Mystic Euphonia”, is my opinion the worst track of the album. I don’t know, it must be the beginning of the song that induce some aversive reaction. I don’t like it. At all. The first interlude “Temple of The Soul” has this kind of tribal vibe that is not bad. “Triangle of Light” is my opinion, the best of the EP. It has this pharaonic vibes by the beginning of the song, a very good mixture of the guitars and the synthesizers. It gives me “la palate” so it must be good. Quickly follows the second interlude “The Imperator’s Arrival”.  The last song “The Grand Design”, again featuring Liv Kristine.  It is quite good, decent work here and I would definitely recommend listening to the song.

After almost four years since the disbanding of Darkonelly project, this is the first significative piece of work (in the form of a EP) to emerge from Marion’s effort during her transition into Lux In Tenebris. Although the EP is overall quite pleasant to listen, at this stage I consider it as a fairly rough and raw diamond. Considering it is a project mostly driven by Marion at this point, it is a decent EP to give a try on. It shows some potential, but at this time it needs refining to achieve an optimal shape. It also tells you that having Liv on board is likely that their artistic potential is here. Lets let the sunrise shed some lights and allow the project to emerge from the darkness into light, when opera and metal shed through the darkness.